After KPMG developed one of the world’s most complex sporting league fixtures – optimising Australia’s National Basketball League schedule would appear to be a free throw. But a constantly changing arena capacity, travel logistics and player welfare meant that the complexities were vast. KPMG experts leapt to the challenge.
The National Basketball League (NBL) is the number one professional men’s basketball league in Australia and New Zealand. The league is contested by eight teams; seven from Australia and one from New Zealand. The eight teams play 28 games each during a regular season, 14 home and 14 away.
Creating a fixture for their matches is an extremely complicated process. One reason is that the NBL teams are not the number one tenants of arenas, therefore must compete with major international concerts (such as singer Adele) and other sporting events for availability. For example, Melbourne’s Hisense Arena is unavailable for basketball matches during January when the Australian Open tennis tournament is staged.
Even when a draft schedule is set, venue availability can instantly change, so alternative dates or venues, including interstate options, have to be renegotiated with clubs, accommodation providers, airlines, and broadcast services, impacting the entire proposal.
The NBL reached out to KPMG to help it build a technology model to facilitate the development of its annual fixture. The model needed to cater for these vast complexities, enable changes to be quickly integrated, and take many external influencing factors into account.
KPMG jumped at the chance to develop a match fixture optimisation model for the NBL’s 2017/18 schedule. Although KPMG had developed similar models previously, the nature of the complexities were vast and demanded unique constraints be considered. For example, there were limits on the number of ‘away games’ a team could play in a row, limits on arena availabilities and preferred game days.
Therefore, KPMG’s goal was not only to produce a schedule that met regular standards, but one that could continually integrate more metrics, while always producing a balanced fixture for all teams.
Overcoming geographical challenges had to be central to the model. The NBL’s teams are spread across a broad distance – for example it is 5,343km from Perth to Auckland. The scheduling model needed to account for travel time, total distance travelled, rest between games, as well as optimising any road trips to visit multiple destinations.
The NBL’s partnership agreement necessitated using direct flights, so airline schedules had to be integrated. This was complicated by teams, such as Cairns, which are located in areas that are served by fewer direct flights than major hubs like Melbourne and Sydney.
Another challenge for KPMG’s experts was that the model was being formulated parallel to the NBL’s negotiations for a new broadcast television deal, so television timeslots had to be factored into the various potential fixtures.
The fixture needed to account for ‘primetime’ and ‘non-primetime’ slots across the week, scheduling the best games in primetime for the broadcaster, while also assuring relative parity in each team’s exposure to television audiences.
Adding to this, the broadcaster had particular evenings in which it wanted to show each round’s best game, so an additional constraint was added to the algorithm which factored in historical records of results between teams, as well as TV ratings data, to ensure the best schedule.
Through extensive collaboration with NBL management and utilising KPMG’s innovative match fixture optimisation model, the KPMG team provided a schedule for the 2017/2018 season that met all objectives.
The final schedule improved the quality of TV matchups, improved ticket sales by spacing out home games, and addressed very stringent venue availability requirements (for example, with some locations having very limited dates available for basketball).
No fixture permutation will ever be exactly perfect for all teams, and there is no magical formula to make everyone happy. Inevitably, clubs, the press or fans will voice concern that elements are unfair towards one team or another.
Therefore, when presenting the schedule, the KPMG team created custom visualisations which were shared with the NBL clubs. These helped to convey the different metrics involved in the fixture’s formulation, and how it was as fair and even as possible.
This was the first time that an airline schedule had been added to KPMG’s match scheduling model. With the NBL looking to expand further internationally, with franchise options in other markets such as Asia being considered, this element will be key to formulating a broader fixture.
It was also the first time that cost factors had been used within the model, influencing the schedule. Venue rental rates differ between times of the year, as well as days of the week. These changes are amplified in major metropolitan areas.
For future development, KPMG has consulted with leagues around the world to explore including public transport schedules into the model, to minimise travel inconveniences, maximise fan experience and avoid any potentially volatile fan clashes.
As KPMG works with the NBL using the model to formulate the fixture for the next season, this first fixture will be used as a baseline to improve KPIs.
Metrics in player welfare, cost minimisation and broadcast requirements will continue to be improved upon to deliver a better fixture for players, commercial stakeholders and fans alike.